Shelby Township Deputy Police Chief Mark Coil talks about Duncan Elementary School’s new secure entryway system and how each visitor now has to enter through the front office. L

Shelby Township Deputy Police Chief Mark Coil talks about Duncan Elementary School’s new secure entryway system and how each visitor now has to enter through the front office. L

Photo by Donna Agusti


Hackel: It shouldn’t be on teachers, schools ‘to figure this out’

UCS, county exec start school year with safety address

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published September 6, 2019

 Duncan Elementary fourth grade teacher Jill Lee interacts with her class Sept. 3, the first day of school.

Duncan Elementary fourth grade teacher Jill Lee interacts with her class Sept. 3, the first day of school.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 A school door is equipped with shades as a new safety feature.

A school door is equipped with shades as a new safety feature.

Photo by Donna Agusti

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Thanks to bond funding, Utica Community Schools spent the summer equipping schools to be safer for students, school officials said Sept. 3.

During a press conference held at Duncan Elementary School in Shelby Township, UCS Superintendent Christine Johns welcomed the first day of the 2019-20 school year. 

Johns explained how the district recently invested time and resources into security protocols and building upgrades. She said that while UCS is focused on teaching academics to 27,000 students across 36 schools, parents should be assured of the district’s dedication to keeping kids safe.

“You, the parents in Utica Community Schools, said to us back last November that you wanted us to focus on safety and security, and you approved a $155 million bond issue,” she said. “And as a result of that bond issue, this past summer we had a lot of work done throughout the district.” 

Johns said an estimated $20 million in projects took place over the summer, and Duncan Elementary serves as an example of UCS’ commitment to installing secure entryways in all of its schools. She said locked entryway systems allow staff to buzz visitors inside the front office and make them show identification before entering the school hallways. 

Administrators said they also have been using bond money to fund new school security cameras. According to school officials, all of the high schools and junior highs, as well as four elementary schools, currently have camera systems. 

Duncan Elementary School had 46 new surveillance cameras installed over the summer, according to John Graham, UCS assistant superintendent for auxiliary services.

Johns said UCS has nurtured a strong partnership with local police and the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office. School officials said school resource officers are deployed at all four main high schools, and eight security specialists monitor the junior high and elementary schools. The schools also regularly practice emergency drills: five per year for fires, three for lockdowns and two for severe weather.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said news headlines regularly prove that danger and school violence are out there. But he said it’s law enforcement’s responsibility to come up with a better way to handle public safety, and “it shouldn’t be incumbent upon the schools and the teachers to figure this out.”

Hackel praised Duncan’s camera system and said Macomb County is one of the only counties in the country that possesses the police resources to access live surveillance footage in schools, if needed, in an emergency situation. 

“It’s not Big Brother. We’re not watching kids walk around the hallways and play basketball in the gym and monitoring what they’re eating in the lunchroom cafeteria,” Hackel said. 

“But the minute something happens, we have the ability to infiltrate the cameras in these schools to try to figure out how do we get a real-time response to help minimize any problem or issue that might be happening within a school. That is an incredible advantage for law enforcement.”

Duncan Principal Sharon Coil said the schools encourage children not to be afraid, but they are teaching students in an age-appropriate way how to stay safe. Examples include training on stranger danger and how to properly evacuate or do a lockdown, she said.

“We don’t forget one minute of the day that we have the most important thing in the world here within our building, and our parents trust us wholeheartedly to take care of them,” Coil said.

Nathan Bills, a parent of five current UCS students, said he was grateful for the school district’s added security measures.

“It’s so reassuring, as some of you know, as a parent to actually feel peace of mind in your heart, in your spirit, when you put your kids on the school bus and send them off to school today knowing that they’re going to be protected and taken care of,” he said.

Find out more about Utica Community Schools by visiting www.uticak12.org or by calling (586) 797-1000.

Call Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at (586) 498-1058.  

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